If you can pry yourself away from Aruba’s idyllic beaches, epicurean adventures abound for curious palates. Challenged with growing produce on a small, arid island, early Arubans ate what was easily available, including soups and stews of goat, chicken, or seafood; cheese casseroles stuffed with what was left in the larder; and, of course, the catch of the day. Over time, however, the more than 90 nationalities that call the island home have created a rich gastronomic tapestry, complete with flavors from the Caribbean, North and South America, Indonesia, Asia, Europe, and more.
Today, there’s also an exciting new energy infusing Aruba’s food scene with everything from modern restaurants in restored heritage houses to floating brunches, chef’s table dinners, and gourmet walking tours. Even creative plant-based fare has taken root on the island.
To experience the island’s compelling culinary mix of old and new, we’ve rounded up the 10 best foods in Aruba and where to try them.
The catch of the day
At Taste My Aruba, convivial owner Nathaly de Mey shares the flavors of fresh fish she remembers from her childhood on the island. Using her own fleet of Aruban fishermen, she serves only what’s fresh that morning, whether that’s red snapper, wahoo, mahi mahi, yellowfin tuna, grouper, or even lobster. Whatever’s on deck, guests at the inviting restaurant, housed in a restored century-old building in downtown Oranjestad, enjoy it expertly prepared, often with a traditional red Creole sauce of peppers and herbs from de Mey’s own garden. Dine inside or out, but don’t miss the homemade cashew nut cake for dessert.
Keshi yena, or stuffed cheese
The national dish of the ABC islands, keshi yena (stuffed cheese), comes in many different varieties—and every Aruban family has a closely guarded recipe of their own. It began as the hollowed rind of Edam or Gouda cheese, stuffed with beef, chicken, or seafood as well as onions, peppers, tomato sauce, olives, capers, raisins, and cashews, but it now qualifies as any type of casserole topped with melted Dutch cheese. One of the best versions is available at Papiamento in Noord, where the Ellis family combines shredded tenderloin, chicken, and some secret ingredients and cooks them to thick, bubbly perfection.
Aruban stobas (stews)
At Elements Restaurant, located in the adults-only Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort overlooking Eagle Beach, the team of Caribbean chefs cook up a buffet of authentic dishes from Aruba, Jamaica, Haiti, and more every Monday through Saturday. Seek out the Aruban stobas (stews), especially the calco stoba (conch stew in rich red sauce) and papaya stoba (made with unripe papaya, goat meat, salted beef, and pork tail), and spice them up with some pica di papaya (Aruba’s famous hot sauce). Also be sure to mop up the broth with pan bati (a flat cornmeal bread) and finish with kesio (a rich caramel custard).
Pastechis (pastries) and batidos (fruit shakes)
Aruba’s fast-food staple, pastechis are deep-fried, half-moon pastries, stuffed with such fillings as chicken, beef, tuna, vegetables, or cheese and best paired with a batido (fresh fruit shake). For the ultimate example, stop by the Pastechi House in Oranjestad, where the friendly owner will help you choose from fillings like ham and cheese, lobster, and even chop suey. Don’t forget to order a batido, available here in enticing flavors like tamarin and soursop, then take your to-go treasures to a bench on Oranjestad’s colorful backstreets and enjoy them like a local.
Webo yenas, or deviled eggs
Arubans have a thing for webo yenas, aka deviled eggs. In fact, they’re considered such a necessity at any gathering that there’s an Aruban expression that translates to “no eggs, no party.” At tapas restaurant Patio 15, owner Mark Benson Denz puts his own spin on the popular snack, adding avocado cream and bacon bits to delicious success. Give them a try alongside other creative small plates like keshi yena tacos and crispy mini sacos (a play on the brown bags overflowing with lip-smacking barbecued meats, typically found in San Nicolas) while seated on the massive patio, which faces a restored heritage house in downtown Oranjestad.
Bolo (cake) by the slice
In Aruba, bolo, or cake, is king. Offered in bakeries across the island, it comes in varieties including pistachio, cashew nut, and bolo di glas, topped with colored cubes of gelatin that look like stained glass. Bolo isn’t typically served by the slice, but if you don’t want to buy a whole cake, follow Route 4 behind Eagle Beach to the roundabout at Tanki Leendart, where you’ll find the Piece of Cake Dessert Truck. It serves individual portions of bolo in flavors like liqueur-laden ponche crema pistachio and borracho (rum). The truck also has cheesecake and an interesting selection of ice cream cake, all available by the slice. Note: Open from 3 p.m.–12 a.m. Monday to Thursday and 12 p.m.–12 a.m. Friday to Sunday.
Caribbean rock lobster
Caribbean rock lobster is a denser, clawless cousin of its Atlantic counterpart, best enjoyed grilled to reveal its sweeter flavor. To try it for yourself, drive to the little fishing village of Savaneta in southeast Aruba and dine at the Old Man and the Sea, located at the waterfront Aruba Ocean Villas. Here, the freshly caught crustacean comes à la vodka style on a bed of penne pasta; it is the restaurant’s signature dish. The one overwater table is reserved for villa guests, but you’ll do just as well at a table on the tiki torch–lit beach, where a wandering musician serenades guests with love songs under the stars.
A chef’s tasting menu
Experience Aruba’s culinary avant garde at Infini, an 18-seat chef’s table at the Blue Residences in Noord. The restaurant is helmed by celebrated Aruban chef Urvin Croes, who’s known for his ultra-modern technique, artistic plating, and passion for experimentation. Each evening, he surprises diners with 12 courses made from locally sourced ingredients as well as hand-selected seasonal products from around the world. You never know quite what you’ll get, and that’s part of what’s so special about dining here. For an even more delicious evening, pair your meal with curated wines, cocktails, and beers, carefully selected to accompany each dish.
Cuba-inspired ropa vieja
Cuban food in Aruba is a result of tough economic times at the turn of the century when Aruban men went to Cuba in search of work. Many of them returned with Cuban wives, who brought with them traditional dishes like ropa vieja, featuring shredded beef and strips of colorful vegetables sautéed in a sofrito sauce. For a heavenly rendition, head to Cuba’s Cookin’, a lively restaurant in the Renaissance Marketplace in Oranjestad that transports diners to Cuba circa 1959 with traditional dishes and live Latin music. In line with current dining trends on the island, Cuba’s Cookin’ also offers an impressive vegan version of ropa vieja, made with tofu instead of braised skirt steak. Whichever one you order, be sure to accompany it with a hand-crafted mojito.
Pannekoeken (Dutch pancakes) are lighter and thinner than American flapjacks and often have fresh fruit cooked into the cakes rather than piled on top. They’re also commonly served as a savory dish for dinner, like the ones available at the Dutch Pancakehouse in Oranjestad. Try the Milano (with salami, cheese, onion, bell pepper, and oregano) or the Provençale (with ham, brie, honey, chives, and caramelized walnuts), then order some poffertjes, or silver dollar–sized pancakes, with peaches and Grand Marnier for dessert.
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